The Maitre d’ of Retail
Jotham Sederstrom March 30, 2010, 10:19 a.m.
Among the many victims of the so-called Great Recession—Bernard Madoff investors, Lehman Brothers staffers, the $6 caramel macchiato—few have seen such dramatic reversals of fortune as the city’s retail brokers.
Indeed, the average asking rent for Manhattan retail space, from shopping malls to Fifth Avenue trophy buildings, dropped 11 percent between the fall of 2008 and spring 2009, according to Real Estate Board of New York statistics. For many retail brokers, it was the most significant plunge since the months following Sept. 11, 2001.
But don’t tell any of that to David LaPierre, a 17-year real estate veteran who earlier this month was named CB Richard Ellis’ top nationwide retail professional of 2009. Thanks in part to a 42,500-square-foot deal that will put the Italian restaurant and market Eataly into the former International Toy Center building at 200 Fifth Avenue, the New York native racked up 85,000 square feet in transactions last year, which, by retail standards, is huge.
“It was sort of a compilation of a lot of 2007 and 2008 work,” said the modest Mr. LaPierre, 41, a senior vice president at the firm. “For us, it’s not always about what you did that year. A lot of the ways we get paid and compensated are spread out over time. As much as I had a pretty solid ’09 and had some pretty good deals, a lot of the recognition from this year is from the previous years’ hard work.”
The hard work, it turns out, has paid off handsomely. Besides a 9,200-square-foot lease for Men’s Wearhouse at 650 Sixth Avenue and a pair of deals at 444 Madison Avenue, for Burberry and TD Bank, Mr. LaPierre has also inked a transaction on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile for Omega, the luxury watch chain that boasts celeb fans like Angelina Jolie and George Clooney.
But nowhere has Mr. LaPierre’s persistence paid off more than with B&B Hospitality, the Mario Batali-owned enterprise that intends to open the country’s first Eataly food market in the Flatiron district later this year.
And as much as the project promises to be an ambitious undertaking for Mr. Batali, who reportedly plans to operate five new restaurants and a roof-deck gastropub inside the three-level food emporium, sealing such a massive real estate deal in the midst of a global recession proved to be equally complicated for Mr. LaPierre.
What began in early 2008 as a plan to place Italy’s premier food emporium in a 22,000-square-foot, three-story space at 915 Broadway (incidentally, the same building that houses The Commercial Observer) soon grew to nearly twice the size, as Mr. Batali and partner Joseph Bastianich’s business concept began to evolve.
At the same time, L&L, the group that owns 200 Fifth Avenue, came to an agreement to vacate space then being occupied by Cipriani. But convincing L&L principal David Levinson to take a chance on what he initially considered to be simply another area grocery store presented its own challenges.
“At first this didn’t excite him, but I knew in my heart of hearts that it was a home run for him and the right fit for my guys,” recalled Mr. LaPierre, who finally inked the 20-year deal in July 2009. “We certainly didn’t start at the Toy Building. We started in many other different failed scenarios. And some time your best failures are what propel you to the right place.”
MR. LAPIERRE’S REPUTATION for representing the likes of such flashy metropolitan retailers as Tommy Hilfiger and Jimmy Choo, however, didn’t materialize overnight. Born in Dover-Foxcroft, a town in Maine with fewer than 5,000 residents, Mr. LaPierre was raised by an AT&T engineer dad and a stay-at-home mom in an idyllic little village. He described his upbringing as “very, very different than the community of money we’re sort of surrounded by in New York.
“I always tell people I grew up on a little house on the prairie,” said Mr. LaPierre. “It’s really like west of Bangor, so it’s farther inland, deep in black-fly country, pine everywhere and bugs like you wouldn’t believe.”
After moving to Utica as a young man, Mr. LaPierre accepted a job out of college selling insurance investments at Equitable in 1991. It was his first stint as a salesperson, and the experience of trying to sell insurance to doctors, lawyers and a slew of municipal workers left him with a life lesson he hasn’t forgotten.
“One of the great lessons I learned out of that was just how tough it was to make cold calls to people when you’re 22 years old and try to get them to do something with their money,” recalled Mr. LaPierre. “It sort of taught me really early on that you really, truly have to understand your audience.”
Two years later, in 1993, Mr. LaPierre was hired to work on a leasing team at the Pyramid Companies, a major shopping-center developer based in Syracuse. He described the work as grueling, yet a perfect training ground for his future career as a retail broker.
“I really liked it, but it was such a fast pace,” said Mr. LaPierre, who assisted in developing and expanding Caswell-Massey, billed as the country’s oldest apothecary, before leaving the job after less than a year. “They were growing two shopping centers they were developing, and I wasn’t mature enough to survive there for very long.”
He joined what was then Edward S. Gordon in August 1994, and the rest, as they say, is ancient history. After approximately 1 million square feet of retail transactions, the New Jersey resident says he loves his job more than ever. But there is something else that has him even more excited: his 8-year-old son, Jack, and a baby girl who’s expected to be born in May.
And have you and your wife, Kimberly, chosen a name for the baby?
“We can’t publish that yet,” said the otherwise candid father, beaming. “That, I have to keep off the record.”